BY now, students should all be back in their normal classrooms, but some parents are still debating the merits of reopening schools. Their concerns are justifiable as there are, at this time of writing, over 40 Covid-19 school clusters throughout the country.
Fearing the risk of infection, some parents have refused to allow their children to return to school and have opted to continue with home-based learning.
But there are also strong voices in support of reopening schools. Some parents have said that lack of access to the Internet and high cost of the devices required have negatively affected their children’s education. They also pointed out that many teachers lack pedagogy skills to deliver lessons online.
So, should the government prioritise health and reverse the decision on the reopening of schools? In my opinion, schools can remain open as long as the standard operating procedure (SOP) are strictly followed by everybody in the premises and compound.
It is crucial for us to recognise that while we are about to enter Phase 2 of the national vaccination programme, we still have a long way to go in achieving the target of 80% of the population by February 2022. Education cannot wait that long. If we continue to let students do their lessons online, we are going to put those who cannot afford the costs involved at further risk of lagging behind in their studies.
According to Unicef, the longer students remain out of school, the less likely some are to return. This can lead to great economic damages to the country in the future. Therefore, we need to prioritise getting everyone back to school safely.
There is mutual understanding among most people that everyone wants to stay safe from Covid-19. This means they are willing to follow the SOP. When this happens, mask-wearing and physical distancing will become a norm in schools. This is the power of social groups – what the majority does can help reinforce norms that are beneficial to the community as a whole.
We need to learn to “live in the new normal”. It is not about just doing the same thing the whole time. Yes, closing down schools at the start of the pandemic was necessary as we really needed to control the number of Covid-19 cases. But education has waited long enough. We need to get people back to school in a way that is appropriate. We can achieve this by relying on the power of the community and strict policy enforcement by the government.
When the pandemic started, we had to learn to refrain from shaking hands, among others. Making those changes was not easy, but with the power of community and strict policy enforcement, most of us succeeded.
So, there is no reason why we cannot make pandemic-adapted schooling a norm. We just have to give everyone some time to get used to it.
JIA HAO CHOO , Penang